Banish that Brand: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner. Don’t Buy or Invest in the Anti-open Internet Gang of Four

Want to strike a long-lasting blow for Internet freedom in the U.S.? One approach is to no longer buy any products—including phone and Internet service and shares for investment—from the key companies opposed to network neutrality. These companies are brand bullies. They are using their deep pockets to deep-six an open and democratic broadband communications network for the U.S. They only thing they fear is a consumer backlash. So, let’s give them one. Drop them from your residential service. Ask your business or college to use other providers. Tell your retirement fund managers, if you have one, to place these companies on a “do not buy or hold” list. Tell your friends to spread the word. In other words, let’s turn AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner’s brand identity into something that no smart company would ever desire.

Make this a long-term campaign until they reverse political course on network neutrality.

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AT&T as Ma Censor: Playing the `Indecency’ Card in its Anti-Net Neutrality Campaign

In a reflection of how desperate AT&T’s executives are to stave off an open broadband medium in the U.S., the former SBC is willing to use any tactic—no matter how despicable and dangerous. It appears that AT&T is now seeking to inflame conservative family groups, as well as parents in general, by claiming that network neutrality will usher in a torrent of what it deems to be inappropriate content. Communications Daily reports that an AT&T spokesperson confirmed that:
conservative family groups’ social concerns are on a “very long and growing list” of the net neutrality campaign’s unintended consequences. “All content’s not the same and it shouldn’t be treated the same” if consumers are really in charge. “You’ll continue to see these kinds of things be brought up more publicly” as people learn about the issue, she said.” [“Net Neutrality May Face Battle from Family Values Groups,” July 17, 2007. Subscription required].

But what is most telling in this quote is how AT&T is willing to act as Ma Censor, and readily seek to place a range of content off-limits. Today, they are offering to block what many parents would likely agree is disturbing content. But tomorrow, they could seek to block all kinds of programming necessary for a vibrant and informed democracy. (This is from a company, of course, who doesn’t think twice about handing over to the Bush NSA all kinds of personal information about us).

It also reflects how AT&T is so disingenuous in the net neutral debate. Without an open ‘Net safeguard, independent content providers who seek to offer users quality content–including educational programming for children– won’t be able to readily provide it. That’s because AT&T’s fast lanes will be jam-packed with paid for video games, personalized advertising, and the latest offerings from Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

AT&T’s new corporate motto should be: Fueling the flames of censorship so we can make a fast buck.

Verizon’s Bankrupt Broadband Vision

One shouldn’t be fooled by all the PR and rhetoric (let alone the ads) coming from both Bells and cable about what is supposed to be our innovative and creative media future. What Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others want to give us is a souped-up interactive digital system delivering lots of TV-like entertainment—accompanied by a torrent of personalized advertising. That’s why the cable and phone monopoly are opposed to network neutrality. A truly open system would permit our eyeballs and clicks to really roam free. That’s something that terrifies them, since we would likely be engaged with content they either don’t own or are able to impose a mafia-esque system of payments on (Telco/cable bosses to Gates, Page, Brin, Diller [fill in your name here or favorite site]. If you don’t pay us our digital “vig,” your content is going to end up buried in silicon floating in the East River).

So we think it’s instructive, as part of this blog’s early digital warning function, to give folks a preview of the content soon coming to our broadband screens. What does Verizon plan to offer us, in exchange for killing off community oversight of cable and the scuttling of network neutrality? “Widgets.” Yes, Verizon is running fiber to the home so, according to The Deal, it can offer a “widget” service that “will display local weather and traffic info on TV screens without interrupting a program” [“The Phone Man: Verizon’s CTO, Mark Wegleitner, on how the Bells plan to compete with the cables.” Chris Nolter. June 19-25. 2006]. Wegleitner told The Deal that Verizon is also planning products for “heavy-duty gamers. Maybe they are watching the equivalent of QVC for gamers and say, Boy, I’d like to get more information on that. So they click a button and zip to an infomercial on that game.”

That’s not all. Verizon wants to sync up its mobile video service with what we view over broadband. Verizon SVP, video solutions, Marilyn O’Connell told Screenplays magazine (which covers the broadband market) that the company is thinking about all the triple play revenues it can make from selling music, gaming and information across all platforms. So we are going to see what she calls “threads between what VCAST [Verizon’s mobile content service] is developing in portable snacking on entertainment, and what we’re creating over on the TV side, as well as on the broadband side” [“A View of Things to Come on Verizon’s Roadmap,” June 2006].

This is what we’re going to get if we allow Sen. Ted (“Internets”) Stevens and the bunch of “under the Bell $ influence” R’s and D’s in the House (led by Joe Barton) to get their way with the Telecom bill.

Disney and Verizon: Broadband Lies about Diversity

People of color have not fared well in the U.S. in terms of owning/controlling programming content. Channels serving “minority” audiences have often been created to serve the political purposes of the media lobby. BET was financially backed to help the cable industry secure lucrative franchises from big cities. More recently, Comcast supported the new TV One cable channel to give it greater leverage with officials from the African American community. As we have pointed out previously, the TV industry views the African American and Hispanic “market” as great places to sell soap and other products—not as communities deserving a meaningful range of serious and independent content services. In the emerging interactive broadband era, the stakes are especially high, in our opinion, to ensure that there are well-supported local and national services serving a variety of needs—including news, public affairs, and culture.

Last Monday, executives from both Verizon and Disney claimed that their corporate policies opposing an open Internet and ending community oversight of cable TV would “help improve black and Hispanic presence in the industry” (according to the off-line trade journal Communications Daily, 7/11/06: “Verizon, Disney Executives Say Their Policy Positions Good for Minority Communications”). The executives spoke at a conference held by the Minority Media & Telecom Council.

Verizon’s EVP/Super-Lobbyist (and former Congressperson) Tom Tauke, in discussing why his company opposes network neutrality, said that such a safeguard wasn’t needed because “all players can reach their audiences over broadband.” Disney’s Preston Padden [once the media industry leader fighting for network neutrality] echoed Tauke’s perspectives that people of color have nothing to worry about. He said, noted the trade report, that “near as I can tell, the Internet is completely color-blind.”

But both Verizon and Disney aren’t being honest. They know well that absent network neutrality, a private system for broadband distribution is evolving in the U.S. Powerful gatekeepers are emerging for broadband—just as we’ve had with broadcast and cable TV. Deals are being struck which give a privileged few—such as what was done between Verizon and Disney last year—real access to audiences. Everyone else will be a second-class digital citizen, at best.

I fear that absent action, both in the political front and in the marketplace, the kind of rich digital environment that would meet the full needs of communities now marginalized in our media system will not readily emerge. That’s why it’s time for a serious response to the lies coming from Disney, Verizon and others. We are at a critical crossroads—a turning point—with digital communications. Now is the time to stake a claim for broadband to the PC, TV, and mobile networks. Otherwise, people from America’s diverse communities could end up responding to images and content controlled by others—folks principally interested in selling and making steady bucks.

CDT’s Misguided—and Bell and Cable Monopoly Friendly—Approach to Net Neutrality

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has long been part of the political support system for the communications industry. Although it considers itself a public interest group, CDT has ultimately served the interests of its many corporate funders (AT&T, Doubleclick, Verizon. Acxion, Time Warner, etc.) Indeed, the group backed away from the network neutrality issue several years ago (then known as “open access”) because, in the words of one CDT executive, “our funders would kill us” if the group called for a truly open (let alone privacy protected) digital media system. CDT’s policy briefs and lobbying often enable its corporate supporters to achieve their political goals (including preventing unwanted legislation, such as safeguards. We think that in the case of CDT’s recent proposal on net neutrality, that’s what they are doing here. For it would fail to protect our (U.S.) digital media environment from being controlled by a tiny handful of broadband giants—AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon.

In this case, CDT [read their June 20 policy paper] would permit these monopolists to control the vast expanse of digital distribution that will likely deliver the majority of content to us. In its report, CDT says that “some basic rules requiring network operators to preserve nondiscrimination and openness” would only apply to “those portions of broadband networks dedicated to the Internet.” In other words, the vast majority of capacity used to deliver video and other multi-media content could likely be off-limits to any net neutral safeguards. The phone and cable companies claim they are building private networks—where broadband applications may not traverse over what is considered the “public Internet.” Hence the need, in our view, for far-reaching safeguards to ensure true Internet freedom. CDT also is opposed to any federal rule ensuring common carriage and price protections for consumers.

CDT would like to consider that its proposal is well founded, while others (such as the proponents of true network neutrality) engage in “public rhetoric.” This is also part of CDT’s modus operandi, with a “let’s make a deal we can broker on the Hill” mentality. One shouldn’t be fooled by CDT. What’s needed are strong rules across all digital platforms to ensure a democratic media system. Not—as CDT would have it—give us a small portion of capacity, while electronic privateers control most of the network.

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